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Student Amanda Cox

Background Information on Abila

The Decapolis was a group of ten cities (Abila, Damascus, Dion, Gerasa, Gadara, HipposPella, Philadelphia, Raphana, Scythopolis) that formed a Hellenistic or Greco-Roman confederation or league located south of the Sea of Galilee in the Transjordan. Abila lies about three miles south of the Yarmuk River (nahr el-Yarmuk), the modern border between Jordan and Syria. The only city belonging to the Decapolis located to the west of the Jordan River is Scythopolis, ancient Beth Shan.

Abila, along with other cities of the Decapolis, is mentioned in other extant ancient documents.

Joseph mentions Abila falling into the hands of Antiochus the Great (Antiquities 12:3:136). Pliny also gives mention to Abila (Natural History, 5, 74). Eusebius mentions in his Onomasticon that Abila is "twelve Roman miles from Gadara. The term "Decapolis" is a misnomer, for according to the second century A.D. geographer, Ptolemy, the Decapolis included more than ten cities (Geography 5:14:22). Ptolemy adds nine additional cities to his list: Heliopolis (Baalbak), Abila (Quailibah), Saana (Janamyn), Ina, Abila of Lysanias, Capitolias (Beit Ras), Adra, Gadora (Umm Qeis), and Samoulis.

Although Abila is not mentioned in the Scriptures by name, the term "Decapolis" is specifically referred to three times, with connection to Jesus' ministry: Matthew 4:25 ("Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him."); Mark 5:20 ("So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed."); and Mark 7:31 ("Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis.") [NIV]. It is also alluded to in several places throughout the Bible.

The Name Abila
The Greco-Roman name "Abila" is preserved in the Arabic toponym (placename), Tel Abil. Abila is an adaptation of the Semitic form, Abel. Abel is the Hebrew word for: perennial stream; watercourse; canal; or brook (Deut.8:2,3,6). This is important when considering the topography of the site, for Tel Abil has a fine perennial stream that flows from its source, Ain Qwailibah, located about one kilometer south of the site. The stream runs north and then turns slightly northwest, emptying into the Yarmuk River and eventually into the Jordan River.
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